Senate

Democratic senator and top Trump immigration official argue over asylum claims on Twitter

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) feuded with a top Trump administration official on Twitter on Wednesday evening regarding asylum claims being processed at U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) facilities in Newark, N.J., and Boston.

USCIS acting chief Ken Cuccinelli fired back at Merkley after the senator tweeted that the two offices were "suspending virtually all asylum claims," adding that 40,000 claims were waiting approval by the office.

"BREAKING: I've learned that the Trump administration is suspending virtually all asylum claims processing for the regions served by the Newark and Boston offices. There are over 40,000 cases pending in those offices," Merkley tweeted.

"Just learned a Senator is falsely alleging @USCIS Boston/Newark stopped processing asylum claims. Completely false!" Cuccinelli wrote in response. "They are shifting *some* staff to help w/ credible fear workload resulting from the historic humanitarian crisis at the border that Congress REFUSES to help fix."

The tweets from Merkley and Cuccinelli came after Merkley obtained a letter from USCIS facility chiefs in Boston and Newark, who wrote that the facility in Boston would conduct "no new interviews" for the time being as the facility deals with an influx of claims.

"This message is to notify you that, in response to shifting priorities and the continued influx of cases at the Southwest Border, both the Newark Asylum Office and the Sub Office in Boston will be diverting a greater number of staff to the APSO caseload," the letter stated.

"Effective Monday, August 19th, both offices will assign a majority of interviewing officers to the Credible Fear/Reasonable Fear workload. Officers will continue to travel to the Southwest border, and an increased number of officers will be assigned to interview Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear cases either in-person or telephonically from the home offices," it continued. 

The letter also stated that a "small number" of interviews would continue to be conducted at the Newark office, adding that a "more robust" interview schedule would return as soon as possible.

USCIS referred to Cuccinelli's tweets when asked for comment Wednesday night.

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